Archives

The Ideas Behind the Book

Today is launch day for Blood Across the Divide. I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my novels so it seemed appropriate to explain some of the things that inspired the novel.

Two mysteries – what has happened to Fiona’s missing passenger, and who shot the rebel republican terrorist, Eamon McCollum? Once again, tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief Peter Montgomery-Jones come together to find the answers and unravel how the two cases are linked.

Belfast rightly deserves its reputation as one of the top British cities for tourists. All looks set for a wonderful tour, but, people are not always who they claim to be. Fiona and her coach party quickly find themselves drawn into the undercurrent of distrust and thirst for revenge that has been simmering in Northern Ireland since the time of The Troubles. Drawn into one another’s investigations, Fiona and Peter need the other’s help to cut through the web of deceit and betrayal to find out what has been going on.

Established parameters

My first two published novels were standalone psychological suspense, but when I was having problems with the third book, my then agent suggested my books would be easier to sell if I had a series character. I gave some thought to the idea and decided my investigator would be a tour manager for a coach company. Her sidekick could be her driver and, in true Agatha Christie fashion, my cast of suspects would be limited to the number of passengers.

Not that things quite worked to that pattern as I hadn’t accounted for Peter Montgomery-Jones. Intended as a minor character, he took on a life of his own and not only demanded on a bigger role in Book 1, insisted on coming back in all future mysteries. Who said characters don’t take over?

Blood Across the Divide is the fifth Fiona Mason Mystery therefore there are I didn’t start with a blank sheet. I already knew my leading character, Fiona, who would solve a murder within the time frame of a coach tour. Two other characters would also an essential part of the mix – Peter Montgomery-Jones – who would have his own investigation – and Fiona’s West Indian driver, Winston whose role might only be minor, but already established as a steady rock for when Fiona is besieged by problems.

In every good novel, the leading character is changed in some way by the events that happen and although Fiona and Peter are well-established characters, they two continue to grow.

First decisions

The location is obviously another important element in any Fiona Mason Mystery. In the first novel Blood on the Bulb Fields, the idea of finding a dead body in a beautiful place like Keukenhof gardens appealed to me. I’d been to the Netherlands several times and, once I settled on Holland as the venue for Fiona’s coach party, the whole plot began to come together. Amsterdam has one of the world’s leading diamond cutting industries. Smuggling diamonds then became the obvious crime. Research told me that most smuggled diamonds are conflict or blood diamonds and that they are financed by terrorists – hence the introduction of Peter Montgomery-Jones as head of an anti-terrorism unit.

With the next two in the series, I knew the locations well although it did entail a further visit. In the case of Blood in the Wine, we did an actual coach trip and I used the same itinerary when I came to write the novel. A cruise of the Elbe valley beginning with a pre-cruise stay in Berlin was never intended as a research trip but it quickly became the itinerary for Mystery number 4 – Blood Hits the Wall.

With Blood Across the Divide, things were a little different. I had been to many of the places on Fiona’s trip before on different occasions, but with this book, time eluded me, and the return trip to check all the different locations never quite happened. Last year was a very busy year. One of the reasons was the solid six months of research needed to be the port lecturer on a couple of cruises. However, one of the ports I needed to research for my presentation was Belfast. By the time I’d finished, I was familiar with the history of Belfast and Northern Ireland and all of Belfast’s tourist attractions. As port lecturer, I also had to talk about the details of all the tours the ship had to offer. These then became Fiona’s itinerary. Naturally, when we arrived at the port, I opted for a tour to one of the places I had not previously visited and my husband visited the other – with strict instructions to make notes and take as many photos as possible. As luck would have it, I have a friend who lives in Belfast and she was kind enough to act as one of my beta readers checking that I had my facts right.

Location is not the only thing that has to be decided upon before I start writing. I need a reason to involve Peter Montgomery-Jones. What terrorist activity will bring him hurrying over from his MI6 headquarters? The crime must be related to the location. Setting Blood Across the Divide in Northern Ireland, something to do with the Troubles seemed an obvious choice. But it’s an emotive issue, and I was apprehensive that I could walk the fine line that would fulfil the needs of a crime novel and, at the same time, cause no offense.

I’m beginning to think about the next novel. I have two locations in mind. Originally, I’d decided on the Rhone Valley – we have a visit planned in March/early April but the idea I came up with for Peter’s investigation is probably better served by setting Fiona’s trip in Paris and the Normandy Britany area. We will have to see!

Author Interview on ‘toofulltowrite’

First and foremost, I wish you all a happy and productive New Year.

Towards the end of the year, I was approached by David Ellis and asked if I would agree to be interviewed for his toofulltowrite website subtitled as a Creative Palace for Artists and Author Resources. David asked some interesting questions that had me scratching my head at times and here is the result.

PORTRAITS 043_cr 300 tallAuthor Interview – Judith Cranswick

Welcome to the latest installment in the Author Interview series and we are finishing out the week with a bang.

Tonight we speak to Award Winning author Judith Cranswick about her crime thriller novels and what makes them so special, engaging and worth reading.

 

Hi there Judith, thank you for taking the time to be with us today to talk about your thrilling stories.

Blood Hits the Wall front cover copyLet’s start with your latest novel “Blood Hits the Wall” – Book 4 in the Fiona Mason Mysteries Series. Please tell us more about Fiona, how she has evolved over the course of four novels and what sleuthing adventures and sticky situations she is going to find herself dealing with this time round?

In the first book in the series, “Blood on the Bulb Fields”, Fiona was recently widowed. She had spent the last nine years looking after her terminally-ill husband. When he died, family and friends suggested she get herself a little job to keep herself occupied though becoming a tour manager for a coach company wasn’t quite what they had in mind. Fiona has grown in confidence as the year (and the first four books) has gone on and in “Blood Hits the Wall”, on her tour to Belin and the Elbe Valley, her relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones develops though they continue to find themselves at odds with one another all too often as they pursue their separate objectives. This time she wants his help when the group is detained in Berlin following the murder of their local guide, but he has his own secret mission which he cannot jeopardise. Continue reading

The Novelist and Depression – Dealing with the Downside

DepressionWe fiction writers are sensitive people – we live on our emotions. We create characters and, if we want to make them to be real for our readers, we see the world through their eyes. We put our protagonist through all kinds of misery. One problem after another. If we didn’t there would be no story. The more we experience our character’s pain, the better the writing will be. We train ourselves to feel the grief, the despair, the anguish. Is it any wonder that we fall victim to a certain level of despondency when life hands us a bad deal? Life is never fair. I like to claim that I’m a glass half full person, trying to see the best side and count my many blessings, but there are times when I don’t succeed.

Continue reading

Inspired to Write

inspirationIdeas

Writers are frequently asked where they get their ideas. It’s the question many of us dread when the floor is thrown open at the end of a talk or presentation. I’ve heard authors joke about buying them from a little shop around the corner near where they live, but the real answer is prosaic. LIFE.

The truth is most of us writers are never short of ideas – life is full of them. Things happen and from a small, possibly insignificant event or observation, an idea begins to grow. Whether that initial idea will flower into a full-blown plot is another matter, but the more you write the more you begin to see the potential in everyday events.

To quote Neil Gaiman – “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” Continue reading

Keep Motivated – Attend a Conference

Fishguard Bay Hotel

Fishguard Bay Hotel – location of the Writers’ Holiday

I’ve just come back from a great weekend at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. I confess I am something of a junkie when it comes to writing conferences and festivals. Why? Because they are FUN! They may provide an excellent learning experience, the opportunity to network with other writers even agents and to rub shoulders with favourite authors and some of the big names in the literary world, but I love them because I always have such a great time.

Over the years, I have attended writers’ get-togethers at the Winchester Conference and the Writers’ Holiday plus a couple of Avon courses. I’m lucky that my home town of Swindon runs what has now become a two week literature festival, and the Cheltenham Festival is also within easy reach.

Fire your enthusiasm

I first went to Winchester some fifteen years ago and when I got back home, I told my non-writing husband what a great time I’d had. When I eventually stopped gushing and he managed to get a word in, he asked if I planned to go again the following year. I thought for a second or two and then replied only if I could earn the money to pay from it by selling my writing. That was the beginning of my determination to be a real writer. To produce something that people who didn’t know me would be prepared to actually pay for. Continue reading

Finding Inspiration – Pictures tell Stories.

Leading Writing Workshops on board a cruise is nothing like teaching Creative Writing courses back home. For a start, I used to limit my course groups for the University of Bath, Swindon College or the WEA to 12 people. On board ship, you never know how many passengers will turn up. It can be a whole roomful of people ranging from those who have never written before to experienced writers. Several years ago, I had a published author from California who joined the workshops and I know at least one of the people who came to my workshops on the Black Watch Mystery Cruise at the end of November had won a Writing Magazine short story competition and been highly commended in two others! The majority of passengers who opt to try my workshops would probably never consider attending classes back home so my main task, as with any Cruise Lecturer, is to entertain by providing the vital stimulus to help them start writing.

How do I do that?

Continue reading